Purple Martins

The return of the Purple Martins this spring to Greenwich Point was a welcome sight amid the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic. White plastic gourds, used for nesting, were installed on three flagpoles south of the Clam Bake area in April, with the hopes that migrating Purple Martins would return to, or choose, Greenwich to nest and breed during the summer. 

Over the past four years, the Greenwich Conservation Commission has slowly increased the number of gourds across the three poles as the local Purple Martin population increased. This year 36 gourds were installed. By the end of May it was clear this would be a good year, as multiple gourds had the classic straw-lined nest with green leaves, and a few nests even had an egg laid. By early June, we counted over 100 eggs across 22 active gourds. A week later, 23 chicks were born, and 86 eggs across 23 gourds.  

Yet, unforeseen circumstances altered our projections. Midway through June, a pair of Great Horned Owls preyed upon the colony and we lost nearly half of the juveniles. We had never seen such activity and needed to act quickly to prevent further mortality. We installed ‘owl guards’, metal prongs that hang in front of the opening to the gourd to prevent owls from being able to reach and grab inside, on the gourds that still had nests. Fortunately, the guards worked, and we were able to save the remaining juveniles. While unfortunate to lose so many juveniles, the owl guards will now permanently live on the gourds during future seasons. 

A serendipitous meeting with a local photographer while monitoring the colony helped identify three banded Purple Martins. CT DEEP bands Purple Martins with two ankle bands: a colored band and a metal U.S. Geological Survey band. The colored band signifies the natal location where the bird was banded. Greenwich’s colors are yellow and blue. The metal band has a nine-digit code engraved on it to identify the individual. When juveniles are banded, they are weighed and aged. 

Identifying returning Purple Martins is a success in this species conservation story. Understanding how birds move and colonize new sites aids in the recovery of this state’s species of special concern.  

Photo courtesy of Marie V. Wardell

Photo courtesy of Marie V. Wardell

 

Our mission is to act as an advocate for Greenwich Point. 

We are committed to responsible stewardship and public education to preserve and enhance Greenwich Point's diverse natural environments and beauty; to safe and appropriate recreation; and to the maintenance of its facilities. The Friends of Greenwich Point initiates and carries out projects related to the organization's mission, complementing the efforts and resources of the town.

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